Never underestimate the importance of a title.
A couple of weeks back I picked up an article via Twitter called ‘Why I hate Female Sommeliers and You Should Too‘.
Like probably everybody else who got sent the link, I clicked through seething with indignation, and mentally preparing my return rant. Something along the lines of ‘how on earth can you come out with such tripe, who do you think you are? Donald Trump?’
In fact, unsurprisingly, the article was not a misogynistic trope about women in the workplace but the opposite.
Rather than the subject of its ire being female sommeliers per se, it was questioning why, in 2016 we should still find them sufficiently noteworthy to want to venerate their existence in magazine features.
You know the kind of articles I’m talking about: those hideous ‘Here Come the Girls’ or ’20 Women Tearing Up The Rule Book in a Man’s World’ type pieces.
I always imagine them being written by an old duffer in red corduroys with a shooting jacket shaking his head in wonderment at how such pretty young things could possibly remember all the Crus of Burgundy while still finding time to make themselves look so absolutely mah-vellous every day.
I’m delighted to say that in nearly ten years of Imbibe we’ve NEVER run an article like that – and it’s not because they haven’t been suggested by various people down the years, including a fair few female somms who probably fancied a bit of free publicity!
My rejection of them is based on the fact that, while these articles masquerade as a celebration of female achievement, they are, in fact, the opposite.
The whole premise is patronising, for starters.
If a woman had forced her way into the men’s international football team, that would be noteworthy. But there’s nothing remotely masculine about the skills required to be a sommelier, so to suggest that there is – and that female somms have in some way beaten the system by entering the profession – is nonsense.
Moreover, it distracts from the real issues that female somms still face.
I’ve heard a few stories down the years that have left me open-mouthed.
I very much doubt, for instance, that a male sommelier has ever been told to come to work wearing tighter trousers to show off his packet, but I know of one female somm who was told to wear heels (not flats) and a lower cut top to work.
If she worked at Spearmint Rhino, this might be fair enough, but at the time she was a senior sommelier at a supposedly top-end London hotel. Would she want to be celebrated for being a ‘top female somm’, I wonder?
No, far from helping, these ‘celebration’ articles make things worse, since they suggest that the industry is really doing a terrific job and that nothing needs to change; that unfair or discriminatory practices either don’t matter because they’re clearly not holding women back, or don’t exist at all.
So while I think it’s great to see the growth of women working in hospitality, on reflection, I think I probably hate Female Somms (capital F, capital S) too…